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Testimony Released Of White House Official Who Sounded Alarm On Trump; Testimony Released Of White House Adviser Who Said Bolton Saw Giuliani As Hand Grenade Who Would Blow Everybody Up. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired November 8, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: -- that shut me up.
She really didn't have any choice at that point because it was clear that Sondland and Mick Mulvaney, the chief of staff, were running the Ukraine policy at that point. John?
JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: A remarkable testimony. Our special coverage will continue as we go through these transcripts with CNN's Ana Cabrera right now.
Have a great afternoon.
ANA CABRERA, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Dana Bash live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
Hello on this Friday afternoon. I'm Ana Cabrera. And this is CNN special live coverage on a significant day of news on several fronts.
First, we start with our breaking news. House Democrats have just released more transcripts in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. And we are now getting the first look into the testimony from the former top Russia adviser of the National Security Council, Fiona Hill, and National Security Council Staffer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, both testifying about everything from the president's infamous phone call with Ukraine to the shadow operationg involving Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney.
Let's go straight now to CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. And, Manu, I know you've been looking over Vindman's transcript right now. What are you learning so far?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a significant transcript because this is a person who was on that July phone call, someone who serves on the National Security Council and is involved with Ukrainian policy, but someone who had real serious concerns about the direction that this was going in this administration and also about what the president asked President Zelensky to do on that phone call, to investigate his political rivals. And we're getting some more insight about what was happening behind the scenes in the run-up to that July phone call, a significant development here. Vindman reveals that the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was involved in this ask or coordinated the ask of the Ukrainians to investigate the president's political rivals in exchange for a meeting with the Ukrainians had sought at the White House.
Now, what Vindman says here is that he heard the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, say directly that this ask had been coordinated with Mick Mulvaney. This came before that July phone call happened over the summer. And also he said that he heard Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, tell the Ukrainians with, quote, no ambiguity, that there needed to be these investigations before that meeting was carried out.
Now, also Vindman makes very clear that he was -- while he was involved with the preparation for that phone call in July, he actually drafted some talking points, some briefing materials for the president in that July phone call. He did not include what the president ultimately asked the Ukrainian president to do, which was to launch the investigations into the Bidens, also to that company, Burisma, which is what the company that Hunter Biden, the former vice president's son, has served on the board of.
And he makes very clear that he was so concerned about what the president asked that he makes -- he went to the National Security Council's lawyers to make clear that he was concerned about this, that this could undermine bipartisan support for Ukraine, also undercut national security at a vital time for Ukraine.
Now, throughout this testimony, which we're still going through, he does relay the significance of that nearly $400 million of military aid that had been withheld for Ukraine. He said this is roughly 10 percent of the Ukrainian military budget and this had been withheld by the United States even though it had been approved by Congress. And there were serious concerns about the impact this would have in Ukraine at the same time as the president was pushing for these investigations.
So you're getting a real sense of a person who has served for some time and knew the U.S. government, someone who has served overseas, got a Purple Heart serving in Iraq and now saying what the president was doing, what Rudy Giuliani was doing, undercut national security, undercut what the United States government was supposed to do, which was to back up a key alliance, bolster this key alliance at a time when they're pushing these investigations that could ultimately help the president's re-election chances. Ana?
CABRERA: Well, more revelation every day. And, Manu Raju, we know you're going to continue to go through that transcript. After all, Vindman testified for about ten hours on Capitol Hill earlier. So we'll let you get back to it as we discuss what you've shared so far.
And joining us now is former Justice Department official Katrian Mulligan, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, the Congressional Editor for the New York Times, and Jim Sciutto, CNN's National Security Correspondent. Jim, I'll start with you. Vindman, decorated Iraq War veteran, he is the first person who actually listened to the call to testify. Now, we're learning he also helped prepare the president for that call and some of what you've heard from the call was not part of what he had prepared. How significant is this?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, in a few ways. One, his credibility, here is a uniformed member of the military, wounded in Iraq, who came out and swore under oath to this testimony, the fact that he has firsthand knowledge of this call, but also the way he describes it. When you look at his testimony, he said there was, quote, no ambiguity, that there was a demand that Ukraine investigate the Bidens in exchange for the White House meeting.
So this gets at that essential charge here of there being a quid pro quo and Vindman testifying, again, under oath, that this was not a question, this was not a theory, but that it was made very clear this was connected.
The other issue I draw attention to from both Hill and Vindman's testimony here is the tie directly to the White House. You have Fiona Hill testifying that Gordon Sondland, the president's appointee as E.U. ambassador, told her he was in charge of Ukraine policy and that the president had put him in charge of Ukraine policy. He answered that way. That's in her sworn testimony.
And then Vindman, in his testimony, draws a direct line to the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, saying that Mulvaney, again was making this connection, saying, if you want -- to the Ukrainians, if you want this meeting with the president, the deliverable, that term is this investigation of the Bidens, this takes this plot, effort, quid pro quo, whatever you want to call it, with a direct line to the central people around the president.
CABRERA: Right, a direct line to the people around the president, but not to the president directly in that they're hearing it was the president telling Sondland or telling Mulvaney. They're hearing it from those people, not the president himself, right?
SCIUTTO: True. But, listen, the president put Sondland in charge of Ukraine. He is making this happen. Mulvaney makes the deliverable clear. You would have to then believe that Mulvaney and Sondland, both presidential appointees, were freelancing on something that, by the way, in the transcript of the call, the president makes a connections to, talking about doing himself a favor. So it requires a leap of credibility to imagine that this was happening without the president's knowledge and direction.
CABRERA: And, Julie, now we hear Mick Mulvaney being drawn into this in a way we had not heard before, right, that he is directly involved in this ask for the quid pro quo. We've heard himself talk about a quid pro quo, admitting to it at that press conference a couple of weeks ago. But he failed to show up for testimony today behind closed doors even though he was issued a subpoena. How significant is his role in all of this?
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's very significant. And we have heard other witnesses testifying about his involvement in freezing this almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine that was very badly needed that we know understand the Ukrainians were so desperate to get released, that the president of Ukraine was actually willing to go out and do a T.V. interview saying that he was willing to deliver these investigations.
But what is clear from the transcript of Lt. Col. Vindman's testimony is that, actually, Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, tells him at some point that it is Mulvaney who has made it clear to him that a White House meeting is also contingent upon the Ukrainians being willing to sort of publicly say they're going to do these investigations.
And the other thing he makes clear, that Vindman makes clear, is that the power dynamic in this phone call between the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine is pretty vast, and that he felt that President Trump, having brought up this issue was, in essence, even if he never said a word that was a pressuring word or seemed aggressive, that the sort of nature of the interaction was one of pressure and one of a power dynamic that the Ukrainians sort of had to pony up and do what the president was saying. And now we know that sort of behind the scenes, it was Mick Mulvaney, in many of these cases, who communicated that internally to the rest of the officials who were carrying this out.
SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, the other dynamic, right, remember, is that Ukraine, in the midst of this, is at war with Russia. It's been at war for five years. 13,000 Ukrainian civilians and soldiers have died in this war. So part of that power dynamic is a smaller Ukrainian fighting a much bigger military foe, losing in many respects, certainly losing a lot of lives, dependent on U.S. military aid to mount a credible defense. So that, inevitably, is part of the power dynamic as well.
CABRERA: And remember, I think back to the phone call itself and the memorandum that the White House released, and you can even get a sense of that when you read the words yourself, because you see so much flattery put out there by the Ukrainian president in the beginning of the call and interacting with the president of the United States.
Katrina, as the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert, what would have Vindman's role looked like while on that July 25th phone call?
KATRINA MULLIGAN, FORMER DOJ OFFICIAL: So he would have been listening in on the call, and he almost certainly would have been taking copious notes. As somebody who has been on presidential calls before, myself, I can tell you that it is incredibly important that you capture the key elements of what's going on in the call.
The call notes are then circulated to the folks who are on the call. It's a very limited distribution of people, and they're edited for accuracy and for information that may not have been pertinent to the person who initially was taking the notes, typically somebody in the White House situation room staff, but is significant to the experts, substantive experts, in this case, Vindman.
And so it is disturbing to hear, as we do in Vindman's testimony, that there were edits that he put forth for the memorandum, a conversation that were not accepted in the final.
CABRERA: All right, everybody stand by because we also have new excerpts coming in, including from that witness who said White House officials saw this Ukraine operation as a drug deal.
Plus CNN has new reporting on the man at the center of this scandal, Rudy Giuliani, and what he and the president have been doing in recent days.
You're watching CNN. I'm Ana Cabrera. Thanks for being with us.
CABRERA: Back to our breaking news, the release of new transcripts, testimony in the House impeachment inquiry. Our Kylie Atwood has been going over Fiona Hill's transcript. Hill, again, is Trump's former top Russia adviser who sounded the alarm on the president's actions regarding Ukraine. Kylie, what have you learned?
ATWOOD: Yes. So we're getting new details in regard to how the White House officials were handling the role of Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer. And at one point, Fiona Hill describes to lawmakers that she told Kurt Volker, who is a special envoy to Ukraine, that he should not be dealing with Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, when it came to Ukraine. And that was in early July.
And he said back to her essentially that he was trying to fix things and that they had to deal with Giuliani in order to fix the negative perceptions that were out there. But she came back at him and she said, quote, but I expressed to him that I was concerned that there were business dealings, nefarious business dealings underway.
Now, she does not describe specifically what those nefarious business dealings are. But the Nefarious business dealings are, but the bottom line here is that Kurt Volker and some of the other folks who were working on Ukraine for the Trump administration were being pushed by the president himself to deal with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Then on the other side, you have folks like Fiona Hill, the top adviser on Russia, then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, who were urging them not to deal with Giuliani.
We know from Fiona's transcript here that she told lawmakers that Bolton, at one point, described Rudy Giuliani as a hand grenade that was going to blow everyone up. But at the same time, she would sometimes walk into John Bolton's office, and there on the T.V. when Rudy Giuliani came on, he would turn up the volume so that he knew what Rudy Giuliani was saying.
And she would go home at the end of long days, and she too would have to turn on the T.V. to learn about what Giuliani was saying so that she could then be prepared to carry out the Trump administration's formal foreign policy when it came to Ukraine. So we're learning more details about how complicated it all really was.
But another interesting element here is the fact that Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was having meetings with the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Gordon Sondland, repeatedly. And Fiona Hill explains that they were discussing Ukraine. At one point, Gordon Sondland told her that he was put in charge of Ukraine by the president. But the problem was that the meetings between Sondland and Mick Mulvaney weren't trickling down to the rest of the staff, including Fiona Hill who was carrying out the formal policy.
So there is really a problem here with how the messages were getting transferred, and the fact here is that we are seeing more and more the overstated role that Giuliani was playing, even if there were officials in the administration, including John Bolton and Fiona Hill who were pushing back.
But the other thing to consider is that Mick Mulvaney did not go forth and provide any testimony. He has no plans to do so. So the problem is we're getting closer and closer to those who are having conversations with President Trump, but we are really still waiting to hear some more details about those who were involved in those day-to- day discussions, including Mulvaney himself.
CABRERA: Right. Kylie, fascinating, thank you for sharing.
And now, Jim, Julie and Katrina are all back with us to dissect that latest reporting. What a vivid picture we are learning now as she describes watching television, how the communication was going, who was talking to whom and how people were learning about what the plan was when it came to Ukraine. Fiona Hill the center of trying to execute on U.S. policy there in Ukraine.
Jim, how do you react to what you hear?
SCIUTTO: First on Hill, anybody who covers Russia, Hill knows Russia, two, is as tough as can be, and three, oftentimes, when I or others press the administration on being soft on Russia, you'd often be pointed in the direction of Fiona Hill as a sign of you have someone on the inside who is tough on Russia. So her whole role here, she has got enormous credibility on this.
And look at what she said in her testimony regarding that call. She said that Trump pushing Zelensky for investigations regarding the Bidens was, in her words, pretty blatant. Put that next to what Vindman said, there was no ambiguity about the connection being made there.
So people highly involved in the policy who were firsthand witnesses to the call, they read that quid pro quo as pretty clear-cut. And that's certainly significant in this.
CABRERA: Remind us how Hill though fits into Trump's national security circle. Was she considered an insider?
SCIUTTO: Yes, she was. I mean, certainly, based on her position, she is the lead Russia policy official on the National Security Council.
Now, what we see playing out here though is that there was a deliberate effort to sideline everyone who has a formal role in that policy from the NSC to the State Department and create this side- channel, including the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, but also Gordon Sondland, who, by the way, is ambassador to the E.U. Ukraine is not in the E.U.
So for him to be running Ukraine policy is outside of the channels of government and it appears that these were the choices of the president to have these people involved. They were doing the president's bidding here, the president's personal attorney, his appointee as E.U. ambassador, who at least he himself described him as being selected by the president, handpicked to run the Ukraine effort here.
CABRERA: And, Julie, it seems like Hill and Bolton were particularly close, because a lot of what she shared are what she was told from Bolton in their conversations, and he was raising multiple red flags to her about Sondland, also warning Volker to stay away from Giuliani on Ukraine, even as the president directed them to do so. What are your thoughts?
DAVIS: Right. Well, so, obviously, we're not hearing from John Bolton, at least not yet. He said he would not appear and then actually the House decided to withdraw the subpoena for him because they did not want to engage in a lengthy legal battle to get him up to testify. But Fiona Hill's transcript here does shed a lot of light on her conversations with John Bolton and they clearly were both extremely alarmed by both sort of the substance of this whole shadow foreign policy effort that seemed to be going on around them, and specifically about Giuliani's role.
She quotes John Bolton as having said that Rudy Giuliani is a hand grenade who's going to blow up and sort of essentially suggesting that he was going to ruin everything for everyone. At one point, he calls this push for investigation as a drug deal that Rudy Giuliani is trying to push.
And what's interesting here is that John Bolton and Fiona Hill are clearly trying to push back against this effort knowing how close Rudy Giuliani is to President Trump and how he has been sort of deputized by the president to be in charge of Ukraine for whatever reason.
There are other officials kind of in this whole saga who tried a different approach. We know that Kurt Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine, basically says to George Kent at one point, he testified, according to his transcript that came out yesterday, listen, you know, what's the harm if we ask for these investigations? If nothing comes of them, nothing comes of them. And this is able -- if sort of asking for this in the way that the president wants and the way that Giuliani has asked kind of allows us to go forward with a relationship in a productive way, what's the harm?
And George Kent, a senior State Department official, was saying, well, no. It's harmful just to even suggest this. And in and of itself, the effort is essentially upending the foreign policy. So there was a lot back of forth and a lot of disagreement, I think, inside the administration about what the best way was to handle Rudy Giuliani kind of being in all of these discussions.
CABRERA: I keep on thinking, how does Congress get to the bottom of it if people are refusing to testify? They're putting up these road blocks. We know Bolton is not testifying. Mulvaney is not testifying. And they're claiming executive privilege or some kind of immunity. What's the answer, Katrina?
MULLIGAN: The answer is we have enough without them. I mean, one of the most extraordinary things that you see when you look at both what we learned from Hill's testimony and also what we learned from Vindman's testimony is you had two fairly neutral members of the Trump national security apparatus who both independently came to the same conclusion that there was a serious problem with the way that this was being handled, who both elevated their concerns directly to the National Security Council legal adviser.
Having served on the NSC staff before, I can tell you it's extraordinary to hear that people were so concerned about the actions that were taking place at the president's direction that they actually took the step of taking that to the legal adviser's office. I mean, normally, you're only engaging with the legal adviser's office when you want clearance on a document.
CABRERA: But that legal adviser, Eisenberg, is another one who isn't testifying and responding to the request from Congress to hear from that person. I want to know. I'm sure everybody at home wants to know where do those concerns go.
MULLIGAN: Exactly, and what documentation was made once those concerns were brought to him. And to the extent that there isn't documentation, why not, because, also as a lawyer, this is the kind of stuff you write down.
CABRERA: Jim, what's your biggest unanswered question right now?
SCIUTTO: Well, listen, here's the thing. The Democratic approach to White House stonewalling appears to be the following. They are not going to bother, right? They're going to say, we have enough testimony from the many State Department and other officials who defied the White House to testify under oath without those people close to the president, and then use that resistance to back up a further article of impeachment, it appears, on obstruction of justice.
I spoke to Jerry Nadler, of course, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, and he made that point, in effect, that they believe that the evidence they have so far is already damning of this pressure, under pressure, quid pro quo, et cetera, and then you use the White House's resistance to back up another article of impeachment. Of course, the question remains where that goes in the House and the Senate. Is that an argument that sitting lawmakers, particularly Republican lawmakers or any of them buy, that remains to be seen.
CABRERA: Okay. Everybody, thank you. Please stand by.
Officials at the State Department describe Rudy Giuliani as running a, quote, campaign of lies. But even as this impeachment inquiry plows ahead, new CNN reporting on just how close Giuliani remains with President Trump, when we come back.